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Who Do We Think We Are?

Just another day in that fabled, urban war-zone...Anacostia? So scary. Stay away.
Who do we think we are?

There are perfectly sensible people living along Pennsylvania Avenue, between the Sousa Bridge and the Southern Avenue D.C. State Line - in Naylor Dupont, ANC-7B - who think that they live in as colorful a scattering of socially and politically diverse neighborhoods, as to be found, anywhere else in Washington. They think they live in neighborhoods, called Greenway, Penn Branch, Fairfax Village, Hillcrest and Skyland, spite of the fact that so many Washingtonians, west of the Anacostia River, persist in dismissively referring to these neighborhoods, as ..'Anacostia'.

There are people living on exlusive Westover Drive, secluded in the emerald majesty of historic Fort Davis Park, where Ohio Representative, Dennis Kusinich, presently resides, who are so removed from the fabled, urban grit of Southeast Washington...they might think they're in Northwest Washington. There's no evidence that they do, but, you would understand, if you were lucky enough to wake up, where they do, ..and they've been there, perennially ignored by the Nation's Capitol, for nearly fifty years.

I am not making this up.

I remember how frustrated and angered my neighbors were by the trashing of this area's only movie theatre, the Hyland (the shell of which presently houses a daycare facility), by Southeast residents. In the 1970s, the Hyland was one of the nicer places, East-of-river - one of the places that reminded Afro-American working AND middleclass residents that they lived in a good neighborhood - that their hardwork had paid off and that the indignities of Jim Crow had not been endured in vain.

Unfortunately, there were those among the Hyland's patrons, who did not feel this way about it - who, I think, saw the Hyland Theatre, its neighboring drugstore and some of our nicer restaurants as gilded toys of an ambitious black middleclass that had abandoned them to crime, poverty and ghettos. The Hyland was not just an auditorium, but, a true movie palace, in the historical sense of that word, and these resentful people did unspeakable things in and to it, ..but, even that did not diminish the aspirations it represented.

For as long as I've lived on what D.C.'s Afro-American middleclass calls 'the Silver Coast', I have understood those aspirations to be something deeply rooted in the cultural identity of our River East neighborhoods. Many long-standing residents of these neighborhoods do not see their communities as stopping at the Anacostia River, but, as being part of the national, international and global experience that is Washington, D.C.  There's something about the way people think in Naylor Dupont - about looking out over the Nation's Capitol from these wild, majestic, opossum-infested hills - that is inherently optimistic, audacious and without boundary, ..and I consider myself truly priveleged to have grown up in the midst of it.

Who do we think we are?

It took a remarkable young lady in Congress Heights, Ms. Nikki Peele - whose tireless efforts to revitalize economic development in River East have inspired a generation - and an equally remarkable gentleman, Mr. Baxter Gee - a retired Marine, who devotes his life to mentoring youth in economically challenged River East and Hill area neighborhoods - to remind me of the hard work and tremendous sacrifices it has taken to make us who we are. We are a socio-politically diverse array of strong, defiantly proud and enduring communities, whose stories have yet to be told or appreciated. There is something special happening, over here...

And it isn't Anacostia.

[Fourth edition. This is largely excerpt from an earlier blog post, entitled 'Capicostia Is Real'.]


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